Top tips from Heads when buying children mobile phones

Two heads have shared their advice for parents regarding the right time – and right way – to buy your child a mobile phone. Kate Gater of High March School and Chris Burch of Birkdale Prep were speaking to Attain's Fresh Thinking podcast.

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19th May 2021 — All children are keen to get a mobile phone.

Today's smartphones are mini computers with processing power and capacity far greater than the desktop computers parents enjoyed in their youth – and they are permanently connected online.

Together, this combination poses a problem for parents: when is the right time to buy your child a mobile phone and ensure they use it wisely?

"I think they start wanting a phone probably in pre-prep," says Chris Burch, Head of Birkdale Prep in Sheffield.

But want and need are, of course, two separate issues.

"There's probably never a point, in my opinion, when the girls need a mobile phone – certainly at our school," explains Kate Gater, Headmistress of High March School in Buckinghamshire.

But it's an issue which all parents will need to discuss at some point and both Heads have shared their top tips to make the process easier.

1. Don't rush to buy
"When parents are perhaps choosing phones – or allowing the children to have phones – think about what they actually need the phone for... there's plenty of time for the social media aspects, and the other apps, when they are slightly older," says Chris Burch.

2. Let them demonstrate responsibility
Kate Gater recommends parents guide their child through the journey of responsibility by letting them take the first steps of trying out a device. "It might be a secondhand device – it might be Mum's old device or Dad's – and see whether you can look after it, take care of it and take responsibility. It's a bit like having a pet!" she explains.

3. Set the right culture from the start
It's critical that all children approach their internet usage in the right way, from the earliest age. "You do not type anything on a screen," says Chris Burch, "that you wouldn't be prepared to wear on a t-shirt or say to Mr Burch's face! And I think similar rules apply to apps really."

4. Don't make it a birthday/Christmas present
"Give the item to the children not for a special moment – so not for a birthday or for Christmas," says Kate Gater. "So it's not a special something that they need to yearn for and long for – and see it is a practical tool rather than a present or a gift... Give it to them during the holiday so that the 'new-ness' wears off... so they are not so excited by it by the time they get back to school."

5. Content can come back to haunt you
"The children need to learn that they have a digital footprint," reminds Chris Burch. "At quite a young age we need to try and get this across."

Chris Burch of Birkdale Prep and Kate Gater of High March School share their advice for parents about mobile phones and devices.

And the final message – which is a hard one for all parents – is the need to model the right behaviour.

When looking to set limits on device usage, such as at mealtimes or before bed, parents have an uncomfortable dilemma to ensure they always practise what they want to try and preach.

Listen to the full interview

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